Immigration department denies hunger strike claims

The Refugee Action Coalition claims that 350 asylum seekers held a 24-hour hunger strike.
The Refugee Action Coalition claims that 350 asylum seekers held a 24-hour hunger strike.

The coalition said more than 350 asylum seekers held a 24-hour hunger strike last Friday to protest against Vietnamese immigration police interviewing detainees at the centre recently.

A Department of Immigration and Citizenship spokeswoman denied the hunger strike took place. But she did confirm that incidents of detainee self-harm took place at Yongah Hill ‘from time to time’.

The spokeswoman would not say how many Vietnamese were being held at the centre.

A Vietnamese asylum seeker was recently transferred to a Perth hospital after he attempted to commit suicide at the Northam facility. A department spokesman refused to comment on the protocol for attempted suicides within immigration detention centres.

‘We deal with the incidents appropriately,’ he said.

The spokesman also denied reports that Vietnamese police were allowed into the centre to interrogate detainees.

‘They were not police. They were Vietnamese officials who were there to conduct nationality verification checks,’ he said.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said many of the Vietnamese asylum seekers at Yongah Hill were Catholics from Vinh ” the capital of Nghe An Province on the north coast ” who were fleeing religious persecution.

The People’s Court of Vinh in January convicted 14 activists ” mostly Catholics ” on charges of ‘subversion’ against the State and sentenced them to prison terms of up to 14 years.

Human rights activists say behind the convictions is their links to the Viet Tan movement, an exiled group based in the US that the Hanoi Government considers to be ‘militant’, with the aim of overthrowing the current system.

Mr Rintoul said the immigration department had deliberately exposed the Vietnamese asylum seekers and their families to danger by allowing Vietnamese police to gather information while they were in detention.